By performing density functional theory calculations corrected by an on site Coulomb interaction, we find that the defects at the CeO2(111) surface observed by the scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) measurements of Esch et al. [Science 309, 752 (2005)] are not mere oxygen vacancies or fluorine impurities as suggested by Kullgren et al. [Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 156102 (2014)], but actually the hydroxyl-vacancy combined species. Specifically, we show that hydroxyls play a critical role in the formation and propagation of oxygen vacancy clusters (VCs). In the presence of neighboring hydroxyls, the thermodynamically unstable VCs can be significantly stabilized, and the behaviors of oxygen vacancies become largely consistent with the STM observations. In addition to the clarification of the long term controversy on the surface defect structures of CeO2(111), the "hydroxyl-vacancy model" proposed in this work emphasizes the coexistence of hydroxyls and oxygen vacancies, especially VCs, which is important for understanding the catalytic and other physicochemical properties of reducible metal oxides.